Does a picture of a man come to your mind whenever you think about tech? Don’t worry, there’s a reason for that.
The majority of the workers in the current tech industry are male. Trust me, I am not generalizing.I recently started working at an IT company where most of my colleagues are male. We are a group of 22 people, Out of which only 5 are females.Out of the 5 females, only 1 holds a tech position compared to 16 male tech workers. No, I am not the tech woman of my company.I hadn’t given it much thought until I came across a job advertisement for MIS Operator. If you’re not familiar with the term, it is a tech position.
The interesting thing about this advertisement was that it came with a ‘males only’ requirement. It was intriguing and offensive at the same time. Are there really no women who could fill in the tech position ? So, I went home and talked to my brother, who is also an IT student in Patan College. I asked him how many of his classmates were female. There are 11 the students in his class all are male.I asked the same question to a colleague of mine. The answer was same. The number of female students in tech was way less than I had imagined.This could just be the situation in Nepal. So, I wanted to get a broader perspective.
As you can see, women and technology seem quite distant from each other. The low female participation in tech made me curious about the tech history.So, I started my quest to find out about the history of women in technology.
“Let me clarify up front that this is not a story of how history has been unfair to women, this is a story of perseverance.”
This is the story of women who persevered and went on to achieve great things. I am writing this article because I feel it’s important, that young girls and boys know about famous women in technology like Ada Lovelace, Margaret Hamilton, Grace Hopper and many more.
“Young girls and boys should have both male and female role models to look up to.”
It’s necessary that they look at the tech industry or any other career through a gender-less lens. Now that we’re clear on the intention. Let’s go back to the evolution of computers. Because if you’re digging into history, why not start from evolution?
We all know it is impossible to talk about the history of the computer without talking about Charles Babbage. As he is commonly known as the father of the computer, creator of the world’s first computer.
What about Lady Augusta Ada Lovelace?
I’m certain that most of you haven’t even heard of Lady Augusta Ada Lovelace.Well, She is the world’s first computer programmer.She designed the first computer algorithm for Charles Babbage’s analytic engine in 1843. Her notes reveal that she understood the analytic engine as well as Babbage.Don’t be surprised.According to a research by William Vogel, prior to 1971, coding was largely done by women.
Lovelace like Charles Babbage is an important figure in the history of tech as she was the first female in computer science.She even predicted that devices like analytic engine could be used to create music, graphics and be useful to science. She published her work and signed AAl with Babbage and her husband’s encouragement.However, Ada’s work in 1843 wasn’t discovered until the 1950s.
It took a whole 100 years until we got to Alan Turing and his work in the 1940s, when he created the mechanical computer that cracked the Enigma code. And it is Alan Turing, who for the first time talked about Ada Lovelace’s work again, in his paper that was published in 1950.
Then her work was in the public domain and talked about, but it was also debated whether she had really written it because she was a woman.This story raised serious questions in my mind.
Were there really no female contributors in the history of tech?
Was the history not as loud and proud of women’s contribution as their male counterparts ?
Surprisingly, the tech industry was never a man’s world and it doesn’t have to be. Ada Lovelace persevered. Lovelace, along with many other women after her went on to discover great things and filled the early history of tech with their contributions. The number of women in the tech industry even tripled since 1971-1985, when it reached 38%.
From designing the first computer algorithm, saving millions of lives by cracking the codes during world war two, designing a frequency-hopping technology that would later lead to the invention of wireless signals like wifi and Bluetooth, or putting the first man on the moon, women have made tremendous contributions to the development of modern-day tech.
Yes, you heard me right!
Neil Armstrong wouldn’t have taken the first steps on the moon if it wasn’t for Margaret Hamilton.
She was one of the space programmers responsible for writing the flight software code that was essential for Apollo 11 to reach the moon. Apollo 11 wouldn’t have landed on the moon if it wasn’t for her code.
“Every time you write on a computer, play a music file or calculate with your phone’s calculator, just remember that you are using tools that might not have existed without these women’s contributions.”
The story of these women is both inspirational and tragic to me because it is yet another representation of how history was silent about women’s contribution, but I’m not going to moan about it, you shouldn’t either.
I know that you’re feeling bad because you weren’t told about these women before. I’m sure some of you’re even wondering what your future would’ve been like, had you had these women as role models growing up. But, don’t just moan about it.
“It’s time we start acting on it rather than complain. This article is my attempt to celebrate these women and to bring them into light.”
Now it’s your turn to do your part. Share these stories of incredible women with other people esp. with young girls and boys.
“Let’s give young girls and boys the role models that we never had.”
If you found this article interesting, just wait for the next one. I will be writing about the first woman programmer of Nepal.
Here are the links to a couple of websites, if you want to know more about some famous women in tech history.